paulmundane

General and somewhat random story things

Archive for the month “August, 2012”

As September Looms

Well, here we are.

For those who don’t know, Tales From the Bucket was a project with a set beginning time (Aug 1st) and a set end time (today).

If you’ve been reading along, you may have noticed that the story did not end today.  Yeah, I haven’t put up today’s post as of writing this, but I don’t think you’ll be surprised to hear that one more chapter isn’t going to end the story.  In fact, I’m pretty sure you (the reader) would be pretty disappointed if the story did end that abruptly.

I would be.

Anyways, I’ve had a blast writing Tales From the Bucket.  I love the crew of The Trebuchet, and where their adventures are taking me.  As you may recall, I don’t know where they’ll be from moment to moment, as I don’t truly plan in advance, so again, it’s as much a surprise to me as it is to you.

Point being, I’m in no rush to end it.

See, I set a deadline, because without one I never finish my work.  I posted my story online because than I was more likely to follow my deadline.  That’s how you’ve all helped me so far.  Thing is, having a chapter up a day (with only a few days missed, yay me!) has been a great deadline itself.  Sometimes I have a couple chapters set up, and sometimes I’m scrambling to make one readable before midnight, but either way, its been a wonderful challenge.

And, I’ll be honest, making sure that the story is readable has slowed my progress somewhat.  Normally I can do about 2000 words in two hours, but they are choppy, with little ‘write about a fight and some drinking’ notes in bold between paragraphs.  I don’t slow down to connect the story bits, I just write whatever thing popped into my head.  Posting online?  Can’t do that.  I can’t give out a bunch of random chunks of story, and expect you to both put it together in your head, and keep coming back for more.

It’s been a new way of approaching my writing, and I’m sort of enjoying it.  Again, I’m enjoying writing Tales From the Bucket.  I don’t see ending anytime soon.  I’m going to keep writing, and you just feel free to keep reading.

 

Paul Mundane

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Tales From the Bucket 27

Maychange wasn’t sure exactly how much the camp knew about their story, but everyone knew enough to shun the crew of The Trebuchet.  Comments about traitors were whispered behind their backs, when anyone talked near them at all.  The crew ate and drank alone, and were shuffled off to a pair of small tents for quarters.  Commander Chen spoke to them only enough to give them orders, and even then, it was almost always point.

Not that Maychange minded, he preferred to work alone with his crew than to be put in with a stack of troops.  He, Sore and Reese quickly became a squad of their own, with Quince driving when the opportunity arose.  Clarisence was always in the truck with Quince.  Her knowledge of the Jakara language proved useful on the field, but in truth, Maychange would rather her be out with them than left behind on the camp.  As bad as things were for The Trebuchet crew, they were worse for The Girl.  The crew was seen as traitors, but Clarisence was always seen as one of the enemy, no matter what Hound said to the contrary.

Today was no different, and Maychange, Sore and Reese found themselves on point yet again.  Quince and Clarisence were with Chen’s troops, waiting with the jeep.  Intel had found that a convoy of supplies was going to be crossing one of the few roads that criss-crossed the forest.  Ruining supply lines was always a number one priority at Camp Retribution, it turned out.

The plan was a simple one; Maychange and his crew would scout ahead, and set up a decent ambush point.  When the truck was slowed, and hopefully some of its guards distracted, Chen and his men would move in from behind and secure the truck.  Simple plan, with very little that could go wrong save for Maychange or his crew getting shot down.  That was something that Chen was always willing to risk.

Maychange settled at a turn on the road.  It was thickly forested, with a rocky ledge that forced the road to curve sharply.  He considered the possibility that they could get some of the rocks to avalanche down, but had his doubts.  If nothing else, they at least provided good cover when the shooting started.  Maychange and the crew spread out a bit, and waited for the signal from Chen.  When the radio finally did flicker to life, it was not with good news.

“Forces are bigger then expected,” Chen called over the radio.  “Maychange, we’re falling back.  Get your crew out of there.”

Maychange stared at the radio.  “We are not in position to fall back,” he told Chen.  “They’re between us and the camp.  You know this.”

“Find a way,” Chen called back.  “I’m not risking my men for this.  You’re on your own, Maychange.”

Maychange threw the radio into the forest, and cursed under his breath.  He turned a shrug to Reese and Sore.  “Seems we have a situation,” he told them.

“On our own,” Reese agreed, having overheard.

“Just like old times,” Sore stated.

“I think it stopped being old awhile back,” Maychange retorted.  “It’s just the times now.”  He turned on the personal comm. his team all shared.  “Quince, change of plans.”

“Commander Chen just left with his men,” Quince called back.  “I told them we’d wait for you.”

“I’d damn well hope so,” Sore commented.

“What’s going on captain,” Quince continued over top of Sore.

“We know about as much as you do,” Maychange commented.  “Less actually.  What’s the enemy force look like?”

“Supply truck’s got about six troops riding backside,” Quince informed Maychange.  “They’ve got some sort of tank too.  Slick looking number with a pretty big cannon.”

Maychange sighed.  That’s why Chen had withdrawn.  The Jakara troops weren’t a big deal, but a tank?  No one was carrying anything that would bother a tank.  “Once you’re clear, you and The Girl circle wide, and join us here.” Maychange ordered.

“Aye-aye captain,” Quince replied.  “They’re passed us now, coming your way.  What’s the plan?”

“Good question,” Maychange answered.  “I’m going to buy some time, figure out the next step from there.”

Maychange borrowed the laser Reese was using as a sidearm.  He used it to cut into the trunk of a large tree.  Finally, he and Sore shoved it out on the road.  Maychange fired a few shots into the fallen tree, to make it apparent that it was purposeful.  “They’ll stop here for a bit,” Maychange commented as he worked.  “They’ve got to move the tree, and they’ll be expecting a sudden ambush.”

“Right, so while they investigate, we bugger off,” Reese finished.  “We circle around them, get back to camp.”

“No,” Maychange corrected.  “We rendezvous with Quince and The Girl about half a kilometre up the road, and we ambush the convoy there.”  He smiled at the shocked looks from Sore and Reese.  “We finish the mission,” Maychange explained.

“The mission’s been scrubbed,” Reese responded coldly.  “Those assholes left us here to die.”

“Yes,” Maychange agreed.  “Now we succeed, and show up commander Chen and his boys.”  He shrugged.  “Best revenge we can get.  Show these kids how it’s done.”

Sore scratched his head.  “I was thinking best revenge would be to go back and punch Chen in the face.”

“That’s part of the plan,” Maychange said.  He pointed off down the road.  “For now, we move.”

Quince and Clarisence met with Maychange down the road.  How Quince managed to drive the jeep through the forest, Maychange would never know.  He didn’t care at this moment either.

“So,” Maychange started as he had his crew together.  “What have we got at our disposal.”

“Pistol,” Reese started.  “Two revolvers, a laser pistol, one rifle, one jeep.”  She looked over the crew.  “Three trained military, two near civilians.”

“Hey,” Clarisence corrected.  She broke into a combat pose.  “I’m trained.”

Reese sighed.  “Three and a half trained military, one and a half near civilians,” she corrected.  She shook her head.  “They have a tank,” Reese reminded Maychange.  “We don’t have anything that can stop a tank.”

“We have the jeep,” Sore suggested.  “Quince can run the jeep into the tank.”

Quince stared at Sore.  “Yeah, and then after I bounce harmlessly off of its armour, I can distract it with witty banter.”

“You don’t have witty banter,” Sore said.  “That’s why it’s not on the list of things we have.”

“We can still pull out,” Reese declared over Sore and Quince.  “Maychange, we can still get out of here.  We don’t have anything to stop a tank.”

Maychange looked around the ground.  “We have one thing,” he stated, grabbing a handful of mud.

“We have mud?”  Reese shook her head in disbelief.  “I don’t think they’re too worried about getting their tank dirty.”  She rolled her eyes.  “We were better off with Quince’s wit.”

“It’s not for the tank,” Maychange replied.  He grabbed Clarisence.  “Sorry to do this,” Maychange told The Girl.  Before she could question him, Maychange slammed the handful of mud into her face.  He roughly rubbed more into her hair.

“Keevas!”  Clarisence struggled to get away from Maychange.  She swore again as Maychange tore the shoulder of her shirt wide open, and slammed another glob of dirt into her arm and neck.  “Stop it!  What are you doing?”

“Making you a victim,” Maychange replied.  He pointed at the road.  “Now all you need to do is get in front of that assault vehicle, and tell them all about it.”

Maychange explained his plan to the crew.  He ignored their looks of skeptisim, and waved them into positions.  Reese soured as she heard Maychange out.  “No,” she stated clearly.  “It’s too risky.  They’re likely to kill Clarisence.  I won’t allow it.”

“No one asked for permission, and I’m not looking for advice.”  Maychange could feel the slight rumble of the ground.  The convoy was clear of the road block, and on the move again.

Maychange watched from hiding as the convoy pulled into their ambush point.  The truck was pulling a long flatbed weighed down with crates, and stacks of the segmented metals the Jakara used on their ships.  Six Jakara troopers rode on the flatbed; three on each side.  Their earlier run in with Maychange’s roadblock had put them at attention, and they all had laser rifles drawn and pointed at the woods around them.

The tank followed a few meters behind, with ample view of both the truck and the surroundings.  It was a sleek design indeed; hunched low to the ground like a cat ready to pounce.  The main cannon swung casually back and forth.

Maychange gave the signal, and Clarisence stumbled out of the woods.  She cried out to the troops, and broke into a run towards the assault vehicle.  Clarisence waved and yelled frantically in Jakara.  Maychange didn’t need to understand her words; he’d told her what to say.

There was an ambush up ahead, Clarisence declared in her own language.  She had barely escaped with her life.  Maychange wasn’t sure what else she’d added to the story, but when four of the troops rushed forward to deal with the ambush, they looked furious.  It wasn’t an ordered strike, it was four angry men off to defend a girl’s honour.

Maychange watched as Clarisence threw herself down on the nose of the sleek tank, caterwauling hysterically.  One hundred skills The Girl had, and it turned out dramatic acting was one of them.  She made enough of a scene that none of the Jakara seemed to question why a young Jakara girl was in the woods to begin with.

The two troops still behind came to try and move her.  The driver of the truck stepped out, looking at the scene with concern.  Maychange held his breath; this was the do or die moment.  He watched, worried that the final part of his plan wasn’t going to work.  Finally, after some grand dramatics out front, the top hatch of the tank opened, and a man popped out to shoo Clarisence off of his vehicle.

The Girl stopped sobbing immediately as the hatch opened.  She shot a lightning quick elbow into one of the troop’s throats, and slammed the second’s forehead into the tank.  Clarisence nimbly scrambled up the front of the assault vehicle.  Maychange stepped from the woods, and shot both troops before they could fully recover their senses, and reach for their guns.

The tank pilot took in the ambush, and tried to duck back into the vehicle.  There was a crack as Sore took his shot, and the pilot slumped forward.  Clarisence paused briefly at the corpse, before she shoved her way past it into the tank.  Quince leapt from the trees.  He pulled the previous pilot out by the lapels, and joined Clarisence inside the vehicle.

The driver of the truck stared for a moment in confused horror, before turning back for his vehicle.  Reese rushed forward, and slammed the truck door closed before the man could reach it.  She pointed her gun at his face and he was quick to throw his hands in the air.

“Wait, please,” the truck driver pleaded.  “I’m not with them!”  He waved a hand frantically around his face.  He was dirty, and gaunt, but he was certainly human.  “They’re making us work,” he declared.  Reese nodded once, and lowered her gun.

Behind them, the tank lurched suddenly forward, and then inched back again.  Its main cannon swung about dangerously, and almost clocked Maychange in the head.

“You two think you can figure that thing out?” Maychange asked over the comm.

Any further comment he had was cut short as the four other troops came running back, firing at Maychange and his crew.  Reese opened the truck door again against the flash of lasers, and pulled the driver to cover.  Maychange ducked low.  Above him, the tank’s cannon swung into position, and fired.

There was an immense heat, and a beam of pure energy poured from the cannon.  It drew a line through the forest, along the road, and through all four men.  The troops were evaporated in the wave, just before a section of the forest fell in on itself.

“Yeah,” Quince commented over the silence that followed.  “Yeah, I think we can figure this thing out.”

Maychange reached for his radio, than rolled his eyes as he remembered that he’d thrown it away in disgust.  “Sore,” he ordered.  “Call the base, tell them we’re coming home with a few gifts.”  Maychange cracked his knuckles.  “Tell Commander Chen that I’m going to want to discuss tactics with him personally.”

Tales From the Bucket 26

Maychange was marched through the forest.  There was no talking, save for the occasional warning of steep slopes or rough terrain.  Maychange could tell from the stumbling slow march that his entire crew was being led the same way.  The troops were rough, but not brutal.  The treatment was a necessity of secrecy, not an act of petty cruelty.

Not that we aren’t prisoners, Maychange noted mentally.  There was no question of their position.  They were prisoners for sure, but they were prisoners of humans, not Jakara.  Maychange found a small relief in that.  Small relief.

Despite being blinded by the bag, Maychange could tell when they’d reached their destination.  The ground was smoother, and there was plenty of activity around them.  The smell of oil and fumes mixed with the scent of pine and moss.  Maychange wondered exactly how big Hound’s camp was.  He heard the sound of rustling fabric as he was lead into a tent, and pushed firmly into a chair.  Maychange blinked at the light as his blinding bag was removed.

Hound sat at a makeshift desk in front of Maychange.  The old captain didn’t smile, but considering the large scar that dominated the center of his face, Maychange wondered if smiling was a physical possibility.

“Well, captain Maychange,” Hound commented heavily.  “I certainly didn’t expect to meet you here.”

“Yeah,” Maychange agreed.  “Tiny little universe we live in, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Captain Hound agreed.  He watched as the rest of The Trebuchet’s crew was dragged into the tent, and un-hooded.  “Ah, I’m glad to see that you still have Ms. Roccas with you.”

Clarisence stared wide eyed fear at Captain Hound.  “Nah keevas,” she muttered.  “Ya teh s’iah ka tomo.”  She pointed her accusations at Hound.  “Y’he soto d’nada!”

“English,” Maychange reminded her, unnoticed by Clarisence or Hound.

“Yes, I would have,” Hound replied to Clarisence’s comment.  “I would have done anything to get the Fold Technology from you, but I failed.”  He tapped his neck to remind The Trebuchet’s crew that he could understand The Girl, before he waved around them.

“Look at us.” Captain Hound declared.  “The Jakara recovered our only Fold Engine from the wreckage of The Vigilance.”  He shook his head.  “They have seven, that we can confirm.  Even when we do manage to hurt them, they Fold away, and transfer the engine to a new ship.  We’re losing this war badly, because I didn’t manage to get the secrets of Fold Technology from you”  Captain Hound glared at Clarisence.  “Are you honestly hoping I’ll apologize to you for that?”

Clarisence glared back at Hound.  “I still won’t tell you,” she declared.

Captain Hound gave an exasperated sigh.  “Ms. Roccas.  What exactly do you think I’d do with that information here, even if you were willing to share?” he asked.  “I don’t think you understand the situation we’re in.”

“What is the situation captain,” Reese asked.

Captain Hound looked at his former second lieutenant.  “Dire,” he concluded finally.  “There is no assistance coming.  All capable fleets have been recalled to defend core systems.  We’re on our own out here.”  Hound gave a harsh chuckle.  “Probably the best news you’ve had all day.  In any regular situation, I’d have you all executed for treason.  As it is, we need every able body we can get.”

“Goody for us,” Maychange noted.

“Commander Chen will explain your new roles to you,” Captain Hound told them.  “I know that Captain Maychange, Sergeant Sorely, and Second Lieutenant Reese have military background,” he explained.  He looked at Quince and Clarisence.  “You two, we’ll have to discuss your abilities.  We don’t have the time to train you, so we’ll make do with whatever skills you already have.”

“No one said we’ll help you,” Clarisence blurted.

“Clarisence,” Maychange muttered, warning in his voice.

“But Maychange,” Clarisence shot back.  “He was going to torture me!  He just said he’d happily kill you!”

“Your feelings on the matter are moot,” Hound said.  “Unless you’d rather discuss your options with the Jakara?  I’m not so sure they will cut you a similar deal.”

Captain Hound gave a moment for further objections before he nodded.  “Now that that’s settled.  Welcome to Camp Retribution.”  One half of his face tilted into a smile.  “Welcome to the war effort gentlemen.”

The Amelia Academy: Standards [Review]

Review of my book! A great review at that.

Dark Gaia Productions

First off, I’d like to preface this review by saying that I don’t usually review self published books (this article does a good job of summarising the reasons why), unless someone sends me one that has such a really interesting sounding premise that I just have to read it, to see what it’s all about. The Amelia Academy: Standards by Paul Mundane (available, for the time being, in ebook formats only) was one such book. When I received my free copy of The Amelia Academy to review, I loved the novel’s central concept (it’s centered around a superhero school run by washed up ex-villains and sidekicks) so much that I couldn’t bring myself to turn it down. Fortunately, I made a good decision, because The Amelia Academy is a fast paced action adventure sprinkled with genuinely funny comedy that, aside from a number of editorial and grammar errors present throughout, should appeal to…

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So, Fake Geek Girls.

So, a friend of mine recently brought my attention to current Internet mumblings.  I don’t follow as much as I should, so some stuff slips past my attention.  Add to that that I was out in the boonies for the past week, and you can see how I missed all the action.

Anyways, I was told that someone went out and accused girls of being fake geeks.  Not all girls, I assume, just the pretty ones.  This bothered me enough that I had to toss my hand in, so bear with me.

First off, I want to say that I’m embarrassed at the attention such a ridiculous comment has gotten.  I took the time to read some of the stuff, and wow.

Just, wow.

I’m a geek.  I really am.  I can tell you stories about most super heroes, and their origins, and the fuck ups that have been done by writers and….and I mean, have you seen the new 52?  Really seen it?

But, I digress.  I’ve come to talk about the comments.  See, I used to own a comic shop.  I mention that because I like to think it makes me a bit of a professional.  Not necessarily in geekdom itself, but in the culture of geekdom.

See, folks like to think that all geeks are cut from the same cloth, and that is not the truth at all.  There are levels of interest, same as any hobby.  Most people are just travelling through.  They are regular people, with regular lives, that happen to like some element of geekery; be it comics, or video games, or RPGs.  These fine folks are following a story or a pastime that they like.  They are normal people.  They have families, and wives or husbands, and often even kids.  Yes, geeks have sex, and procreate sometimes.  They are not the thick glasses, anti social, mouth-breathers that geeks are painted to be.

Believe it or not, they are now the majority.  They just aren’t the loud majority.  They don’t live on the forums, and they don’t need to define their life by the hero they like the most.  They are men, and women who just like the hobby.  Some of them go to conventions, and some of them even dress up.

But the stereotype geek does exist.  I have seen true sociopath levels of fan.  And yes, I do mean to use the term sociopath correctly.  There are members of the geek subculture that do honestly have no idea how real people act in real situations.  There are geeks that LIVE through the actions of their comic heroes.  There are members of geek society that don’t know any other level of society.  These are the ones that still think that girls can’t be geeks.  How can girls be geeks?  They have vaginas.

Now, to these types of geeks, comics (and other elements, but I’m targeting comics) are a safe haven.  Girls aren’t invited, because girls make them feel funny.  They are willing to allow girls that look like stereotypical geek girls into their fold, but only grudgingly.  What the comments didn’t mention is that this sub level of geek is actually not only uncomfortable around attractive girls; they are uncomfortable around attractive people.  Geeks aren’t supposed to be attractive.  There aren’t supposed to be girls, but there isn’t supposed to be attractive guys either.  That’s not geek.  If you are taking care of yourself, you are not a geek damnit.

Pretty silly right?

See, this all comes from a time where comics weren’t cool.  It was a hidden haven.  There were geeks, and there were jocks.  There was no mid point.  If you liked sports, you didn’t like comics.  If you liked comics, you didn’t like sports.

Ignore the fact that the characters were all pretty fit.  Hell, the Avengers and the X-men had baseball games every annual back in the day.  Didn’t matter.  Sports and comics equalled no.

So, the comments should have read: any fit person is a fake geek.  But of course, women were the target.  Women make THOSE geeks uncomfortable.  Funny feelings in the groinal area that they only want when alone, looking at Power Girl’s old costume.

Not the new one.  Man, that thing is sad.

And, I don’t want to generalize, but these sociopathic geeks are the ones posting this crap.  They are the ones that honestly believe that girls who put on a superhero costume for the conventions are trying to turn their eye.

I want to take a second and remind everyone that this level of absurdity exists in all hobbies.  There are hardcore sports fans who believe that girls have no place in sports.  There are car hobbyists who think that girls can’t be mechanics.

I’m willing to bet there are model train hobbyists who think girls don’t know crap about trains.  I have no proof of this, but you see what I mean.

Being a girl must be hard.  I’m not one, so yay me, I guess.  It’s like owning a uterus is supposed to impede your ability to enjoy things other than dolls and makeup, and making guys look at you.  Sorry girls.

To hear it from any sub culture is sad, but from geeks it’s just ridiculous.  Maybe these guys should remember that ownership of a penis means that they are supposed to be proud owners of trucks and fans of wrestling.  Maybe they should remember that they aren’t supposed to like comics either.

Women or men, comics are comics.  They are at best times literature, and at worst times?  Rob Liefeld.

Oh, and on a side note?  I DO believe that a woman who puts together a super hero costume for a convention wants to be looked at.  Of course she does.  She put somewhere around six hours into putting the costume together!  When I used to dress up for conventions, I wanted attention too!  But to accuse them of being just booth babes?  That’s unfair.  They are there to enjoy the convention.  They want to be seen, not gawked at, and not demeaned as just there to attract geeks.

If you are accusing them of just looking for attention, chances are you are not the attention they want.  In fact, I’m willing to bet that the angry posts about geek girls is from a man that didn’t get his attention reciprocated.  It shouldn’t be paid attention to.

But, that’s my opinion.

Tales From the Bucket 25

The crew stood outside the wreckage.  There was a swathe of destruction trailing behind them.  The burnt path was littered with fallen trees, scattered produce, and smaller bits of The Trebuchet’s hull that had torn free.  Sections of the ground were smouldering, but it seemed too wet out to threaten a full out forest fire.  Small miracles, Maychange thought.

Maychange sighed deeply as he looked over his ship.  Weakened by earlier laser fire, the cargo hold had torn wide open along the center.  The back half of it had managed to hold on by a corner section of steel.  The outer hull had been ripped by larger trees on landing, and hung off of The Trebuchet’s frame in sections like tattered construction paper.  The view port was smashed in by the large spruce that was currently sitting in Maychange’s seat.  The front of The Bucket was smashed beyond recognition, and currently wrapped around the broken trunk of a giant tree.  It was the same one that had speared his seat.

“Least you gave as good as you got,” Maychange muttered to The Trebuchet.  He wiped a layer of soot off of her name display.  The Trebuchet was still warm.

Clarisence stood beside Maychange.  She reached out cautiously, and put her hand on his arm.  “Oh, captain,” she managed, “I’m so sorry.”

Maychange looked at Clarisence’s hand.  He gave a half smile as he brushed her off his arm.  “No, it’s ok,” he insisted.  Maychange looked at the ruins of his ship; of his home.  “She was never meant for this type of excitement,” he declared finally.  “She was just a salvage ship.”

“She was more than that,” Sore corrected sadly.

“Suppose she was,” Maychange agreed.  He doubted it would matter, but he stuck a small beacon on The Trebuchet’s hull.  Just in case.

Maychange gave a moment of silence for The Trebuchet, then turned away.  “Get what supplies we need,” he ordered.  “Food, clothes, first aid kit.  Grab a bit of tarp, we’ll see what we can do about a tent with it.”

“Sure thing captain,” Sore said.  “Where are we headed?”

“Don’t know,” Maychange admitted.  “We can’t stay here though.  Someone is bound to have seen our landing.”  He looked out to the forest.  “We’ll find a river, follow it to some sort of civilization.  I don’t know after that.”

“We have to assume that all facilities are currently under Jakara control,” Reese told Maychange.  She turned to the rest of the crew.  “Enemy territory.  No one wander off.”

“What she said,” Maychange agreed.  He walked into the woods, everyone following behind.

Maychange led his crew into the forest.  It was a thick and un-traveled area, and they had to make their own path as often as not.  Maychange stomped and pushed his way through the thicket.  He’d never considered owning a machete till this day.

“Who puts a forest in the middle of an industrial planet?” Sore questioned from near the back.  He pushed a dead tree over out of spite.

“Planet’s covered with them,” Quince answered.  “They counteract the pollution from the ship compounds.”  Quince shrugged.  “Lessons learnt from Earth, as it were.”

“Huh,” Sore commented.  “And here I was thinking we weren’t the learning type.”

“Well, I think it’s kind of nice,” Clarisence commented.  She held Quince’s hand tightly.  “It’s pretty peaceful.  You could almost forget how we got here.”  She blushed, and swore under her breath.  “I’m sorry,” she amended for Maychange.  “I don’t  mean that anyone’s forgot.  I mean, I just.  I remember.”

“It’s fine,” Maychange commented.  “We crashed a ship, we don’t have to be in mourning.”  He looked about at the trees.  “It is kind of peaceful.”

Maychange stopped as he heard the snap of a branch somewhere to his side.  He drew his pistol quickly.  Reese already had hers out.  She pointed to the left.  Maychange nodded, and put a hand up to stop his crew.  There was a shift in the shadows to his right as well, and he motioned to it lightly.  There was a sudden sound of movement around them.

“They know we know,” Sore whispered.  He swung his rifle around, and cursed at the awkward size of the weapon in tight quarters.

“We can’t hold this point,” Reese stated.  She motioned to a clearing ahead, and moved close to Maychange, back to his.

“Alright,” Maychange agreed quietly.  He walked slow towards the clearing, keeping his pistol out towards any sound of movement.  “Quince.  You and The Girl keep in cover.  I’m going to start this.  Moment I do, we hit that clearing, but we stay to the trees.”

Maychange didn’t manage to fire the first shot.  He drew a bead on a shadow, but it fired first, tearing a laser line into the tree near him.  Maychange fired back, and caught the shadow in the side.  It spun behind a tree, and another ducked into its place.  A stream of laser light cut through the trees.

“Damn it,” Reese exclaimed.  She took a shot at the moving shadows.  “I count three,” she told the crew.

“Four,” Sore corrected as his rifle cracked over the hissing sound of lasers.

Quince ducked behind a large stump, pulling Clarisence with him.  He took a few pot shots, but didn’t connect with anything.  “There’s more than four,” he called.

Maychange hit the edge of the clearing, Reese at his side.  He could see that Quince was right.  There were six others waiting for them on the other side of the clearing.  We’re being herded, he thought, but it was far too late to do anything about it.  A laser sliced neatly through the tail of his jacket.  He ducked behind a large tree, and got a glance at their attackers.

They weren’t Jakara, from what Maychange could see.  The six troops ahead of them were wearing tattered fatigues.  A couple of them had stripped down to their off-white tank tops, and dog tags clattered against their chests.  Despite their choice of weapons, they were human.

“Whoa,” Maychange called out.  “Time out.  We’re not Jakara.”  He tossed his pistol out, and stepped into the clearing.  “We’re human.”

“Maychange,” Reese whispered.  “Have you lost your mind?”  She kept her gun drawn, covering Maychange as needed.

“Drop your weapons!” one of the troops yelled again.  “Drop your weapons, or we will fire!”  Two of the soldiers came cautiously into the clearing, laser weapons still drawn on Maychange.

“Careful,” Maychange suggested as the troops advanced.  “Those weapons have a bit of a hair trigger.”  He kept his hands up, and turned his head to his crew.  “Stand down, all of you,” he ordered.

Sore put his rifle down carefully, and put his hands up.  Reese lowered her gun, but did not put it down.  Quince stepped out of cover, hands in the air.  He was followed by Clarisence.

“Jakara!” One of the troops yelled.  Guns went back into position, Reese’s included.

“She’s not with the Jakara,” Maychange called over the sudden tension.  “She’s part of my crew.”  Maychange watched as the troops turned their guns from him towards Clarisence.  “Damn it,” he swore, “she’s not the enemy!”

“She’s not the enemy,” a gruff voice agreed.  “Everyone stand down.  That includes you Second Lieutenant.”  An older man limped into the clearing, leaning heavily on a cane.  His face was pretty scarred, but he was still recognizable.

“Captain Hound?” Maychange questioned.  Any further comment he had was muffled as someone tugged a black bag over his head.

“Calmer heads prevail,” Hound commented.  Maychange could hear the captain limp away.  “Get them to the camp,” he ordered.

Tales from The Bucket 24

Maychange stopped running as he reached the cargo hold.  The great door was already open.  Maychange looked over the damage, and recognized that opening the door might not have been necessary.  Two great holes were melted into the sides of the cargo hold; enter and exit wounds.  The cargo hold was plenty open already.

The laser had melted a rivet across the floor, and yes, had taken a large amount of Clarisence’s vegetables.  The ship vibrated hard as Quince took it into the atmosphere.  The edges of the holes glowed almost instantly red, and licks of flame danced along the edges.

Reese looked from one of the holes to Maychange and Sore, and then back to the hole.  “Should be dead,” she muttered.  “We should all have been sucked out.  Hell, lets not even talk about the decompression of the ship.”  Reese shook her head at the giant wound on the side of the ship.  “This shouldn’t be,” she stated.

“No, it shouldn’t,” Maychange agreed.  He tried to play it off as though this was just another day event in his life, but he felt as disconcerted looking out to space now as he had when they’d done it on The Girl’s ship.  “C’mon, help us unhook the fuel barrels.”

Reese nodded, and helped with the cords.  “I like your thinking captain,” she told Maychange.  “It won’t work if they look too hard though.”

“Yeah, but we’re just a salvage ship,” Maychange replied as he rolled one of the barrels across the shaking cargo hold.  “I’m hoping they don’t look too hard.  It’ll help a good bit when there’s no ship left in the explosion.”

Maychange motioned for Reese and Sore to keep working as he got on the intercom.  “Quince, when I give the order, I want you to Fold to the other side of the planet.  Stay in the atmosphere, near the ground.”

“Captain,” Clarisence called over the comm.  “I don’t think…”

“This isn’t a thinking time,” Maychange interrupted.  “You just have the engines primed, then get to crash position, got it?”  Another shot grazed The Trebuchet, punctuating Maychange’s command.

“Captain,” Quince announced.  “I’m going to have to straighten her out first.  We Fold pointed at the ground like this, we’ll still be pointed down when we get to our destination.”  The Trebuchet rocked dangerously as Quince turned her flat against re-entry.  “We’re broadside to their lasers,” Quince continued, “so whatever you’re doing, you’ll want to do it quickly.”

A blue flash lit the open cargo bay, as a laser evaporated the open door/gangplank.  Maychange didn’t waste the time it would take to swear.  He pointed Reese to the destroyed cargo door with her barrel, and Sore to the exit wound from the first hit with his.  Maychange rolled his barrel to the other opening.  He nodded quickly, and yelled orders.

“On three,” he announced, “we send the barrels out, and Quince Folds.  If we’re lucky, it’ll look like we’ve exploded on re-entry.”

“And if we’re not lucky?” Sore questioned.

“Then we get hit while I’m explaining the plan, and we actually explode on re-entry.”

Sore nodded.  “Right.  On three?”

“THREE,” they all announced together.  Maychange shoved a barrel out the hole, as did Sore and Reese.  From the open back, all three barrels could be seen as they bubbled and exploded, leaving a wide swath of fire in the sky.  The image blurred into an orange smear, as Quince Folded The Trebuchet.

Reese, Sore and Maychange were already running as The Trebuchet re appeared on the opposite side of the planet.  The ship vibrated dangerously.  Power failed, and great licks of fire washed in through her wounds.  There was a snapping sound as The Trebuchet free fell into an ancient forest.  Huge branches broke from the trees around them, and fell burning into the cargo hold.

The Trebuchet listed as the three hit the halls, and slammed them all against the wall.  There was a sputtering groan as Quince put all he could to the thrusters, and righted the ship again.  Sore dove for his room, and Maychange pulled Reese into his.

Maychange grabbed Reese, and threw her into his bunk.  He leapt in on top of her, and slammed the panic button set into the wall above his head.  A steel wall slid from the ceiling, and air cushions crushed the Maychange and Reese tight together.  It turned the bunk into a crash cage, or a coffin, depending on how things went.

The Trebuchet came down hard into the woods, tearing a path through the old trees, and soft soil.  There were terrible rending noises amongst the sound of cracking wood, as the forest hit back as hard as it was hit.  One of the larger trees speared through the front view port, and lanced clean through the captain’s chair.  The trebuchet slid nearly half a mile before it finally smacked into a large pine, and stopped dead.  All was quiet, save for the occasional falling tree, and Quince’s off tune humming.

Maychange opened his eyes when the ship finally settled itself.  He was pressed awkwardly against Reese.  They were cheek to cheek, and soon face to face as they tried to look at each other.  Maychange tried to say something, but immediately found his lips moving against hers in the attempt.  He apologized, but it only made things worse.  Maychange pushed against the cushioning to give Reese room to breathe.  He looked down at Reese, and she smiled back up at him.  Both of them began laughing.

“Well,” Maychange stated finally.

“Well,” Reese agreed.  She wriggled against the safety cushions, and against Maychange.  “It’s  probably safe for you to get off me now,” she told Maychange.  “Your pistol is digging into my,” she stopped, and quickly corrected what she was going to say.  “Digging into my side,” she settled on.

Maychange mumbled something close to a yes, recognizing both the compromising position they were in, and the fact that he wasn’t wearing his pistol.  He struggled his hands through the safety cushions, and hit the panic button again.  The cushions deflated themselves, and the wall slid back into storage.

When the crash wall slid back into the ceiling, Sore was already in Maychange’s room.  He’d evidently rushed to save him and Reese if they needed it.  Sore cocked his head to the side when he saw the two.

“Uh,” Maychange started, quick to hop off of Reese.  “Crash cage.”

“Safety,” Reese agreed, straightening her clothing.

“Mutual safety,” Maychange assured Sore.  “From the crash.  Crash cage.”

Sore raised an eyebrow at them.  “Yes, I know,” he said.  “I have one on my bunk.  We all do, ‘cept for The Girl.”

Sore stopped in mid thought.  “The Girl,” he said again, and rushed out the door.  Maychange and Reese followed, running full tilt towards the engine room.

The engine room was a disaster.  Several of the larger ceiling pipes had broken loose, and cables hung about from above.  The engine had broken free of it’s mooring during the crash, and lay on its side bleeding oil onto the floor.

The Girl was on the floor near her bed.  Her curtain had been torn free, and was draped over her like a burial shroud.  Maychange cautiously crossed the oil slick floor, and pulled the curtain off of Clarisence.

Clarisence’s eyes were closed, but Maychange could see that she was breathing.  A thin veil of blue light coated her, and had likely kept her safe in the crash.  Yet another after effect of her father’s theorem, Maychange noted.  She had said it kept her safe.  Still, it wasn’t a perfect defence evidently, and a steady stream of blood flowed from a gash over her left eye.  Her eyes fluttered open, and Clarisence gave the crowd a dazed smile.

“Nah Keevas,” Clarisence stated, running a hand over her forehead.  “N’thatha que de soto das?”

“English,” Maychange reminded Clarisence as Sore and Reese helped her to her feet.  He flicked on the intercom, and cursed as he remembered that it wouldn’t work without power.  He settled on yelling up The Trebuchet’s halls.  “You ok up there, Quince?”

“I’m pretty much alright,” Quince yelled back.  “Shaken but ok.  The Trebuchet’s seen better days,” he continued.

Maychange made his way to the cockpit.  He walked clear in; the pipe he normally hit now on the floor.  Maychange looked at the tree that was protruding out of the back of his seat.  Quince turned to him; pale and shaken.

“The Trebuchet,” Quince said.  “I think she’s dead.”

Tales From the Bucket 23

Maychange stared out at the devastation.  He counted three or four unrecognized ships, including one of the rounded Jakara behemoths in the distance.  But most of the debris seemed to be from human forces.  It had been a major front, and Earth didn’t seem to be on the winning side.

“What happened here?” Quince asked.  He looked around, and recognized the glances he’d received from the rest of the crew.  “Ok, I mean, I can see what happened here.  But what, exactly, happened here?”

“We’ve got incoming,” Sore announced, breaking everyone from observation.  “Three small units.”  Sore looked at his panels.  “They haven’t pinged us yet,” he assured Maychange.

“Quince, pull us up against The Vigilance,” Maychange ordered.  “Minimal thrusters.  Power down everything unnecessary, but be ready to run.”

Quince followed orders without a comment.  They hugged the behemoth, hiding their own signature with the larger ship.  The inside of The Trebuchet went dark as Quince powered down.

The three ships incoming weren’t war vessels, but standard retrieval units.  Maychange watched them as they clamped down on a nearby cruiser.  Despite being familiar ships, something was wrong with them.  They bulged in odd places, strangely misshapen, as though giant remoras had attached to their sides.

“I think I know what’s going on here,” Maychange announced as the three ships pulled away.  “Quince, get us closer to the shipping yard.  I need to be sure.”

Quince nodded, and puffed the thrusters.  He didn’t power up The Trebuchet, instead using the little push to glide through the wreckage towards the orbital shipyard.  Quince only shot off the thrusters when absolutely necessary to steer or avoid larger pieces of debris.  Smaller bits of space flotsam bounced off the hull of The Bucket.  It seemed to take forever before the shipyard came into view, just over the horizon of Rigel.

The shipyard was bustling with activity.  Several retrieval ships circled, pulling in fighters and cruisers that had been left floating nearby.  Giant rounded ships that reminded Maychange of fat short maggots sat in the docks, spewing out ship parts.  Even as they watched, another of the fat ships Folded in nearby.

The ships pulled in by the retrieval vessels were being quickly refitted with the parts from the large round ships.  Maychange nodded.  It was what he’d suspected.  “The Jakara,” he commented.  “They’ve taken the shipyards.  They’re building a force here.”

Two of the retrieval ships headed in their direction.  With their grabbing pincers out, and their odd bulging enhancements, they looked like cybernetic crabs.  This close, they could see easily where the Earth technology stopped, and the Jakara tech began.  It was jarring to stare at.

Quince reached for the ship’s controls, ready to move them away.  Maychange watched, and shook his head.  “Hold steady,” Maychange ordered.

Quince held his hands above the controls, ready to bolt if they were noticed.  The two retrievers passed on either side of The Trebuchet.  One of them roughly shoved The Bucket aside as they worked to bring in a large battle cruiser from behind them.

“I’m not sure if I should be relieved or insulted,” Sore commented.

“Be relieved.  They didn’t notice us, and that’s fine with me.”  Despite his words, Maychange was a bit miffed that his ship wasn’t good enough for retrieval.

Reese pointed out the view port.  “Are you seeing this?” she questioned.  Outside, a giant section of space rippled like waves on a pond.  There was a sudden flash.

A grand ship Folded into the space above the shipyard.  It was twice the size of The Vigilance.  Its rounded body was covered with giant bulges and oddly placed red view ports.  The outer hull was bristled with giant laser weapons.  Massive cables swung from beneath it, and scooped backwards.  It resembled an octopus; a horrible nightmare octopus.  It was quite easily the largest ship Maychange had ever seen.

“Nah keevas,” Clarisence whispered.

“Yeah,” Maychange agreed.  “You can say that again.”

“The N’yarlath,” Clarisence stated instead.  “It’s the flagship of our Military.”

“Oh good,” Maychange commented.  “I was worried you were going to tell me that was an average ship.”

“My dad took me to see it,” Clarisence continued.  “He helped with some of the designs.”  Despite any fear, there was a sense of pride in her words.

Sore looked up from his panels.  “They’re scanning the area,” He commented.  There was a red light blinking on his screen.  “They’ve pinged us!”

“Quince power up, get us out of here,” Maychange yelled.  Outside, the front lasers on The N’yarlath glowed blue.  “Go!”

Quince hit the thrusters as the lights came back on in  The Trebuchet.  They rocketed upward as laser fire peppered the area below them.  One of the retrieval units took a direct hit, and exploded.  The cruiser they were retrieving was shredded in the rain of laser fire.  The N’yarlath moved quick into pursuit, and tagged The Trebuchet hard with a battery from its main guns.

The Trebuchet spun harshly, and Quince hummed and swore all at once as he struggled to regain control.  He managed to pull them out of enemy fire as he stabilized the ship.

Maychange turned on Reese.  “Get back there,” he yelled.  “Find out the extent of damage!”  Maychange watched Reese take off, and looked over at The Girl.  “Get the engines ready to Fold,” he ordered.

“Multiple Folds,” Clarisence moaned, even as she left the cockpit.

“Don’t care,” Maychange replied.  “I’d rather be dead in space for awhile instead of…” he waved out the view port, “…dead in space actually.”  Maychange gave a few seconds before he turned on the intercom.  “What’s the situation Reese?”

“We have a giant hole in the cargo hold.” Reese called across the comm.  “We lost some produce. Also, I’m not sure why we’re not dead.”

“Girl’s power source,” Maychange explained over the comm.  “We have an artificial environment.  It holds the ship together, even when there’s major damage.”

“Like when we found her ship,” Sore commented.

Maychange nodded.  “So long as The Girl’s battery is functioning, we’re fine.”  He blanched noticeably.  “If we Fold, the power source may fail,” he noted.

“We can’t Fold?” Quince asked.  His hand was hovering over the controls, ready to do just that.

“We can’t Fold,” Maychange repeated.

The Trebuchet rocked, reminding everyone on board that escape was important, Folding or not.  Quince turned hard away from the laser fire.  The best he could do was cause it to burn along the side of The Trebuchet.  It was far better than going straight through.  They watched as the beam past on their port side, melting away sections of the outer hull.  Quince flicked on the rear view screens, and they watched The N’yarlath barrelling down on them, lasers firing.  The Trebuchet had the advantage of being a smaller target than regular for a behemoth ship, but it wasn’t much of an advantage.

“I thought they wanted The Girl alive,” Sore questioned.  “Why are they shooting at us?

“They don’t know who we are,” Maychange replied.  “They wouldn’t shoot to kill if they knew The Girl was aboard.”

Quince wrenched the controls.  He barrel rolled between enemy fire, which was admittedly impressive in a salvage ship.  “And that’s comforting how?”

Maychange ignored his pilot.  “Sore, do we still have any fuel?”

“Sold most of it,” Sore replied.  “Maybe a quarter tank?  It’s stored in a few barrels in the cargo hold.”

“Good,” Maychange stated.  “Quince, I need you to bring us down on the planet.  Take us in hard as you can.  Get the cargo door open while you’re at it.”  He stood up, and motioned for Sore to join him.  “We’re going to get those barrels loose.”

“Sure,” Sore replied.  “What you have in mind, captain?  What are we going to do?”

“We’re going to die, I figure,” Maychange replied, already on his way down the hall.

Tales From the Bucket 22

The crew got to The Trebuchet with no trouble.  Rain Dog’s ship was parked nearby, right in Clarisence’s small garden.  A final, though likely unintended insult.  Maychange made sure to set a fuse on Rain Dog’s fuel tanks, and they watched his ship light up as they lifted off.  It did little to lift the depression from the crew.

The Trebuchet floated above Boris, just in orbit.  There was no rush to leave now, and far too much draw to the planet to just Fold away.  Maychange sat at the small table, his crew crowded into the kitchen.  Clarisence had her head on the table, under her arms.  Quince kept an arm over her shoulders, but there was little comfort coming from him.  Sore grabbed one of the clear bottles of 100 proof, and poured glasses for everyone, but they sat unattended.  Reese stood in the doorway, shaking her head on the odd occasion at an unspoken comment.

“Bounty hunters,” Reese finally summed up.  “We don’t even know who sent them.”

“Well, they didn’t have lasers, so it’s narrowed down,” Maychange tried.  His attempt at levity was lost to the room.  He sighed heavily.  “Alright,” Maychange stated.  “I know this is hard.  We’d made a life on Boris, and everyone was happy with it.”

“Not everyone,” Clarisence mumbled from the table.  She looked at Maychange with wet, accusing eyes.  “You weren’t happy,” she continued.  “You kept saying this would happen; that it couldn’t last.”  The Girl wanted to say more, but she choked on her words, and put her head back down.  Quince put an arm around her, and stared at Maychange.  Everyone was staring at Maychange.

“No, I wasn’t happy,” Maychange agreed finally.  “I told you it couldn’t last, and I was right.  I didn’t bring you all in here to say I told you so.”  Maychange sighed.  “Fact is, I shouldn’t have been right.  None of us have done anything wrong.  We shouldn’t have to keep running.”

“I wasn’t happy,” Maychange repeated.  “But I could have been.  I should have enjoyed the time we had.”  He shook his head.  “We can’t keep doing this, we can’t live life looking over our shoulders,” he stated.  “We need to find a way to end this.  Then we can go back, if you all want.  We can go back and stay.”

Clarisence rose her head again.  She smiled hopefully at Maychange.  “Do you mean it?” she asked.  “Do you really think we can go back?”

Maychange nodded.  “We’ll make it priority one.  Somehow, we’ll stop running.”

Reese didn’t seem as sure.  “Exactly how do you plan on pulling that off,” she questioned Maychange.  “The entire universe is hunting us.”

Maychange sighed again.  “I have no idea,” he admitted.  “I’m open to suggestions.”  He looked at his crew, but no one had anything to add.  “Right then,” he continued.  “We’ll begin making our way towards Earth.”

“Earth?”  Quince blinked.  “But, they’re looking for us.”

“Yes, and they’ll be scouring the outskirts of space looking for us.”   Maychange shrugged.  “No one would think we’re crazy enough to fly right into the hub.”

“Yeah, there’s a reason for that,” Sore muttered.

“Again, the table is open for other suggestions?”  Maychange gave everyone a moment.  “Right then.  Quince, plot us a course.  Girl, get the engines ready to Fold.”

“Aye-aye captain,” Quince and Clarisence called as one.  They both leapt from the table, and dashed off to their separate posts.  Reese waited till they were gone before she joined Sore and Maychange at the table.  All three of them, certain the younger crew members were gone, slumped at the shoulders.

Reese took up her cup, and swallowed its contents with a grimace.  “Least it’s not potato,” she commented.  She refilled her cup, and gave Maychange a comforting smile.  “You did good Maychange,” she commented.  “The kids needed to hear something.”

Sore finished his drink.  “They needed to hear something,” he agreed.  “But Earth?”  He shrugged.  “I just don’t think it’s such a good idea.”

Maychange shook his head.  “Sore, you’ve known me for what now, a few decades?  Have I ever had a solidly good idea in that time?”  Maychange didn’t wait for an answer.  “Earth was all I could think of on the fly.  Besides, I know a few guys out on Titan.  Maybe trade in a few favours; get someone to buy The Trebuchet for parts.”  Maychange noticed he was idly caressing the table as he thought of getting rid of The Bucket, and pulled his hand away.  “We’ll get a new ship, something more anonymous.  I mean, The Girl can refit another ship with the power source, right?”

Maychange didn’t notice he’d finished his drink till Sore reached across the table and refilled the glass for him.  “We’ll do what we have to,” Sore offered with a slight smile.

Reese smiled at Maychange as well.  There was something about her smile that Maychange couldn’t quite put his finger on, but helped put him at ease.  He thought on it a moment, wondering if it could be…

“Captain, we have a course,” Quince called over the intercom.  “If you’d like to look it over?”

Maychange shook away his ponderings.  He slugged back the last of his drink, and hopped up.  “On my way Quince,” he announced.

Maychange made his way to the cockpit, with Reese and Sore following close behind.  Clarisence was already there, stuffed into the small corner she’d claimed as her seat.  Maychange clocked his head on a pipe on the way in, and Quince saluted him out of habit.  Sore slid past, squeezing into his chair even as Maychange sat down.  Reese stood in the doorway.

“Alright,” Maychange said, rubbing his head.  “What have you got for me?”

Quince nodded, and pulled the planned route onto the overhead screens.  Rigel first, then Praxis, then finally Earth.  Maychange nodded at the route.

“Figure we’d hit Rigel first,” Quince explained.  “It’s a pretty populated area.  Shipping yards.”  He shrugged.  “We can blend there while we wait for the power core to rest for the next Fold.”

Maychange nodded again.  The threat of multiple Folds, he mentally noted.  “We really need to see about fixing that,” he added out loud.

“Well, it is an industrial planet, so while we’re there,” Quince suggested.  “Better yet, it’s Corporate property, not Military, so they’re sort of neutral ground.”

“Alright, not bad,” Maychange considered.  “What about Praxis?”

“Mining operation,” Sore answered for Quince.  “Not very populated, but busy enough.  Ship like The Trebuchet can go unnoticed there easy enough.”

“Alright then, approved.”  Maychange looked over at Clarisence.  “Are we prepared to Fold?”

“Aye-aye captain,” Clarisence reported with a mock salute.  “Soon as you give the word.”

Maychange shifted in his seat.  He gave a two finger point to the view port.  “Right then, let’s go.”

There was a flash.  Space stretched out around them, and Boris became a smear of white blue under The Trebuchet.  Just like that, they were gone.

The Trebuchet Folded into Rigel space.  Immediately on appearing, it shook and rocked as it was showered with debris.  A body bounced off the windshield, and even Maychange jumped.  The air was littered with destroyed ships of all sizes and shapes.  Evidently, Rigel had recently been a battleground.  A behemoth class derelict, barely intact, floated ahead of them.  The name on the side of the ruined ship, in three story letters, was The Vigilance.

Tales From the Bucket 21

Quince barrelled the truck out of town.  Even with the hovers, it bounced and complained about the rough terrain, and they bottomed it out more than once.

“When we get back to The Bucket,” Maychange ordered to Clarisence and Quince, “you two do whatever you need to get us back in the air.  I want her ready for Fold in under ten minutes.”

“We can do it in five,” Quince bragged.  He stared out the windshield wide eyed suddenly.  “If we get back to The Trebuchet,” he added.

Ahead of them, three trucks had built up an impromptu block.  A couple of Rain Dog’s men opened fire as The Trebuchet’s crew came into sight.  Quince wrenched on the wheel, turning the side of the hover truck to the bounty hunters.  Bullets pinged along the side of the truck, and the driver side window exploded glass onto the passengers.  In the back, Sore took a few shots at the mercenary trucks.  One of the bounty hunters went down in a spray of red, and the others took temporary cover, still firing at The Trebuchet crew.

Quince revved the engine, and tore off back towards town.  Ahead of them, Rain Dog and another truck were coming up fast.  Quince smiled, and positioned their truck to be coming right at Rain Dog.  Rain Dog’s smile was visible even from this distance.  He did nothing to get out of the way.

Maychange stared at Rain Dog’s truck, barrelling at them.  “We’re playing chicken?” he asked.

“Looks that way,” Quince replied.  “I’m banking on your man there not knowing all about these trucks.”

“That’s a fair bet,” Maychange agreed.  He had no idea about these trucks either.

“Oh, you are not serious,” Sore questioned from the back.  He grabbed a hold of the roll bars, and motioned for Reese to do the same.  In the truck, Clarisence checked her seat belt, and tucked herself into crash position.

Maychange watched Rain Dog’s truck rushing to meet them. Neither he nor Quince seemed to have any plan of swerving.  “I hope you know what you’re doing Quince,” Maychange warned.

Quince stayed on his collision course.  “You just find something to hold on to, captain.”

Quince waited till the trucks had almost met.  He slammed the breaks, while simultaneously gunning the thrusters.  In the same fluid motion, he brought the truck back into drive.  The hover thrusters, confused about exactly what they were supposed to be doing, pointed straight at the ground for a moment.  They lifted the speeding truck straight up, while momentum kept it moving forward.  They lifted over Rain Dog’s truck, and continued straight past.

Maychange smacked his head on the dashboard as they came down hard.  Sparks flew from the bottom of the truck, and the hover thrusters groaned angrily at their misuse.  Maychange got a brief glance at Rain Dog in the rear view mirror.  The bounty hunter watched them with a mixed look of fury and awe.  He was already waving for his men to give chase as he turned his own truck around.

Five trucks in all, with only Sore firing parting shots at them.  Reese banged hard on the sliding back window.  “Maychange,” Reese called from the back.  “give me your gun!”

Maychange thrust his pistol out the back window.  “Where’s yours?”

“I’m in a skirt,” Reese declared indignantly as she took Maychange’s pistol.  “Where the hell do you think I’d hide a gun?”

“I probably wouldn’t answer that captain,” Quince suggested.

“Just worry about driving,” Maychange replied.

There was a crack, as Sore took his shot behind them.  The windshield of one of the pursuing trucks shattered, and the driver hung limp.  Most people go limp right after a bullet enters their brain.  The truck fishtailed, and flipped over, spilling it’s back passengers out before rolling over them.  One of the other trucks careened into the fallen truck, and dramatically went up in a ball of fire.  Maychange nodded his approval at the odds.

Two of the other trucks steered around the mess, still keeping on Maychange and his crew.  Reese and Sore dropped prone in the bed of the truck as bullets riddled the tailgate.  Behind them, Rain Dog was catching up with his crew.  He didn’t bother going around the accident, but leapt through it, fire trailing behind his truck.

Reese popped up, and put two bullets through Rain Dog’s windshield.  The first took out his passenger, and the second came close to Rain Dog.  It would have been a clean hit, but Rain Dog tilted his head at the last moment.  He was still smiling as he used the butt of his revolver to clear the shattered windshield from his truck.  He calmly pointed the revolver forward, and took a few wild shots.  Reese ducked again, and the bullets smashed through the back window into the crowded cab.

Maychange felt one of the bullets pass clean through his collar bone.  He grimaced, but ignored it.  “Everyone ok?” he asked.

“Fine,” Clarisence muttered.  She was still in crash position from Quince’s earlier stunt, making her possibly the smartest person in the cab.

“Fine,” Quince agreed.  Blood flowed freely from where one of the bullets had grazed his temple, but he was busy driving, and didn’t really give it notice.  Quince smiled at the captain.  “We’re all fine here.  How are you?”

He watched out the windshield.  “What are we hoping to do in town?”

“We’re not going to town,” Quince replied.  Buildings began to crop up around them.  “Alright.  I mean, we are going to town, but it’s not our destination.”

Quince shot into town, and dodged through the streets, hoping to lose some of Rain Dog’s crew.  The fight at The Barn had tumbled into the streets, and Quince had to veer hard to avoid pedestrians.  Rain Dog’s crew had no intention of losing Quince, though  He did manage at least to make some distance.  Quince put his foot down once he’d cleared the buildings, and put the engine through its paces.

“There’s a gorge just outside of town,” Quince continued.  “Or a canyon.  I’m never sure what the difference is between the two.”

The truck groaned as the terrain became less stable.  “Of course there’s a canyon,” Maychange commented.  “Wouldn’t be a country chase without one.”

“Could be a gorge,” Quince offered.  “It’s coming up now.”

Maychange looked out, expecting to see rock walls raising around them.  “I don’t see anything,” he commented, just before the ground fell out from beneath the truck.

Everything in the cab went near anti-grav as the truck fell down the side of the canyon.  Quince hummed to himself as he struggled with the controls.  The truck’s thrusters pushed along the wall on the odd occasion, slowing their decent, but mostly they free fell.  Quince managed to get the thrusters beneath them before they reached the bottom.  Despite the cushion of air, the truck slammed hard, and Sore lost his rifle in the landing.  The back left thruster sparked and sputtered. They skidded along the bottom of the canyon, and rode sideways up the opposite side before flying off down the center.

“See,” Quince continued.  “It’s all about knowing these trucks.”  There was an explosion behind them as two of their remaining pursuers proved Quince’s point.  Quince looked back, disappointed.  “I thought we’d get a full canyon chase out of this,” he commented.

“Still a chance,” Maychange commented with a point behind them.  One of the trucks was riding the wall, dancing just around the crash site.

Again it was Rain Dog that stayed on them.  He’d pushed his passenger out sometime back, and his back bed crew had either bailed, or had been lost on the canyon entrance.  Rain Dog didn’t seem to mind the lack of company.  He smiled broadly as he fired out his open windshield.

Reese returned fire.  She slammed a few bullets into the front of Rain’s truck, and smiled as smoke rose from beneath the hood.  Rain Dog slowed, but he didn’t stop.  He panged a few more bullets of the body of the truck, and forced Reese to duck down again.

Quince dodged up the far wall, riding it like a wave.  He held tight along it as the canyon forced a ninety degree turn.  Behind them, Rain Dog took the turn hard, shooting up sparks as he grinded the side of his truck along the canyon wall.

Quince smiled triumphantly as he opened up the throttle again.  Another tight turn ahead, and he was sure he’d lose Rain Dog.  “I was worried he actually knew how to drive for a second there,” Quince commented.  “He just lucked the landing though.  Gotta know these trucks,” he stated again.  He wrenched the wheel, ready to ride the next wall into the turn.  “See, the trick is to think of them as…”

There was a horrid rending noise, and a bang, as the left thruster broke loose.  It bounced a moment or two ahead of them before it crashed hard beneath the truck, tearing and sparking its way across the bottom of the truck.  Quince began humming again, this time with a certain urgency to his tune.  The truck rode the turn nose down, and Maychange stared at the ground through the windshield.  The back end of the truck tore rivets into the canyon wall, and finally flipped the truck to its side.  Quince tried to ignore the sparks and dirt flying in his window.  He struggled to get the remaining thrusters in line.  Reese and Sore clung for dear life to the roll bars, staying to the side not currently dragging along the wall.

“Quince?” Clarisence muttered from her tucked position.  There wasn’t much to add.

“I’ve got this,” Quince replied through gritted teeth.

“Quince!” Sore added.  He stumbled, and put his foot through the back window.  He’d have kicked Clarisence in the back of the head, were she not still ready for impact.  Smartest one in the cab.

“I’ve got this,” Quince muttered again.  He managed to force the thrusters into a hard right position.  The thrust threw the truck from the wall, and towards the ground.  Quince struggled the misbehaving truck immediately into reverse, keeping it from slamming nose first into the ground.  Finally, with some very desperate changing of gears, and equally desperate humming, Quince got the truck turned in the air to land belly first on the ground.  The momentum carried the truck for a few more feet before it skidded to a halt.  It then gave up the ghost, and shut down.

“See?” Quince noted.  “I’ve got this.”

Maychange exhaled, unaware that he’d been holding his breath the whole time.  Clarisence rose her head, looking quite surprised that they were still alive.  Sore pulled his leg from the window.  His pants were shredded, but he only had a few cuts.  Reese hopped down, pistol already pointed out towards the corner they’d just ridden.  The rest of the crew got out of the truck cautiously.

Rain Dog walked around the corner, his truck left somewhere behind.  He smiled wide when he saw Maychange.  Rain Dog fired his revolver into the air, and then pointed it at The Trebuchet crew.  “Now, that’s quite enough of all this,” he said.  “You folks are turning easy money into actual work, and I hate that.”  Rain Dog kept his wide smile.  “Now, you’ve all gone and cost be a bunch, but that ends now.  We’re all going to take a bit of a ride to my ship, then you are all coming to meet my employer.”

Rain Dog looked the crew over, finally settling his eyes on Clarisence.  “You,” he stated.  “You girl.  You come walk with Uncle Rain Dog, that way I have someone to shoot if anyone gets out of line.”

Reese shook her head.  She walked forward, gun still aimed at Rain Dog.  “I don’t think you’ve been paying attention,” she stated.  “You had a chance to walk away.  We’ve killed your crew, and we’ll kill you.”  She cocked the hammer of Maychange’s pistol.  “Now, drop your gun, and bugger off.”

“Give it up woman,” Rain Dog stated with a laugh.  “You’re a terrible bluffer.  I’ve been keeping track of you.  You’re out of bullets.”

“Am I?”  Reese held the gun low with a disappointed frown, and pulled the trigger.  Rain Dog’s kneecap exploded in a vapour or red gore, and the man dropped screaming.  Reese tossed the empty pistol to Maychange.  “You’re right captain,” she stated, “That was satisfying.”

“Everyone gets better use out of my toys,” Maychange replied.  He kicked Rain Dog’s revolver to Reese.  “Alright.  You all see if Mr. Dog’s truck is still functioning.  If not, start walking.  I’ll be with you soon.”

No one questioned Maychange’s orders.  He watched them walk away before he turned a stern glance to Rain Dog.  The bounty hunter was digging for something in his jacket.  “I wouldn’t,” Maychange warned.

“Just getting my smokes,” Rain Dog commented.  “Man knows when he’s beat.”  He showed Maychange the pack before he fished a cigarette out of it, and lit it up.  “See, I know you’re probably taking this all personal, but me?  I was just doing my job.”  Rain Dog inhaled smoke deep into his lungs.  When he spoke, it trickled from his lips.  “Could have been anyone showing up here Maychange.  Someone else still will.  I just got here first.”

Maychange shrugged.  “Yeah, about that.  See, you can go on about just doing your job, or how there’ll be others, or whatever makes you feel justified.  Let me tell you another story though.  You’ve taken something very important from my crew.  It could have been anyone, but it wasn’t.  It was you.”

Rain Dog watched Maychange load his pistol.  Despite the obvious pain from his knee, he smiled wide at Maychange.  “So, you gonna kill me here?  That why you sent your crew away?”  Rain Dog blew a ring of smoke.  “Don’t want them to see you get your hands dirty, do you?”

“What?  No, my crew’s seen me kill folk before.”  Maychange looked down the sight of his gun casually.  “I’m not going to kill you, though.  I wouldn’t waste the bullet.”

Maychange considered.  “Alright,” he admitted.  “That’s a bit of a lie.  Man like you?  I’d waste several bullets on.”  Maychange smiled, and put a bullet in Rain Dog’s good knee.

Rain Dog spat his cigarette out in surprise, and screamed a good long slew of obscenities.  “Why?” he managed.

“Why?”  Maychange stopped smiling, and shot Rain Dog through the right hand.  He watched Rain Dog roll about a bit, then put a final bullet through the bounty hunter’s left elbow.

“You took away my crew’s chance at a comfortable life.  Now I’ve taken yours.  Just seems right.”  Maychange scooped up Rain Dog’s cigarette, and placed it back in the hunter’s mouth.  “Enjoy your walk back to town.”

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